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A Winning Idea: Community School Parks for Better Health

Minutes after the opening of Trinity Elementary Community School Park (CSP) earlier this year, neighborhood women were briskly walking a new track with their children. Kids were playing soccer on a new grass field, a college recreation class organized interactive games, and a REI outdoor specialist was teaching youth GPS orienting. After five years of planning, hundreds of children, parents, grandparents, and neighbors joined dignities celebrating Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and People for Parks first CSP. A week later a similar scene was repeated at Vine elementary in Hollywood. A grant secured by PFP opens the Trinity and Vine on weekends, holidays and school vacations. Recreation enrichment activities are being organized.

Watch a video featuring community school parks in California.

During the opening ceremony, Trinity school's young principal, Marta Jevenois, a native of Bilbao, Spain and a marathon runner, declared the new park "a health park." A half-acre of grass fields, scrubs, gardens, trees, playground equipment and walking track transformed the school into a neighborhood oasis. Located nearby is a children's vegetable garden. Ms. Jevenois knows that fitness, fun, healthy food and the meditative quality of parks and gardens serve the health and education needs of the community.

A Trust for Public Lands study notes that city of angels ranks last among 12 west coast cities and last among the nation’s largest cities in providing playgrounds within 1/3 of a mile from homes and schools. Added to the lack of parks are epidemic health statistics for urban children—asthma, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Dr. Richard Jackson, a UCLA Public Health professor and healthy communities advocate, faults urban planning and notes that "children have shorter lives today than their parents."

Opening the schools invites the neighborhood and parents as partners. CSP's are cost effective and attractive schools help stabilize neighborhoods. Recreation programs attract people and heavily used parks are safe parks. CSP’s is a winning idea!

Shellie Pfohl is Executive Director for the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition